Book - Black Foam

Published next week by Amazon Crossing, Tony Cross read the English translation of Black Foam by Haji Jabir ...

This is Haji Jabir’s fourth novel and was originally published in 2018. It has finally been translated – by Sawad Hussain and Marcia Lynx Qualey- into English and is released on February 7th by Amazon Crossing.

It is the story of Dawoud – or David, Adal, or Dawit – who has fled Eritrea and made his way to Israel. He changes his religion, his clothes, his stories and his name. Who he is and how he got where he is depend entirely on when and why you are meeting him. He’s an existential chameleon looking for a place to rest where he doesn’t have to keep looking over his shoulder or keep his stories straight. Dawoud says it himself:

“Each time, he got deeper into the construction of his story, making many unnecessary embellishments. He usually didn’t like this method since this way he wasn’t the owner and master of the story. Instead, it became the property of his listeners. Storytelling was a dangerous game, and the tale could slip from your hands at just the moment you thought it was fully yours.”

But he can never find that place. Wherever he goes there is fear and prejudice. In Israel he is greeted with racism, called ‘slaves’ by people who don’t think he can understand.

“Elohim!” A female nurse yelped in terror, darting away after almost colliding with Dawit at one of the crossings. She muttered under her breath, and Dawit caught the phrase: “filthy slave.”

Hostility is everywhere and he is too afraid to trust anyone because he has to keep his stories straights. He betrays – by omission or commission.

This is both the story of one man, Dawoud and the story of many millions of people who are fleeing from danger to places of safety. Places of safety that aren’t necessarily welcoming or kind. Places where you still have to keep your stories straight and can never relax.

The book is wonderfully written. It jumps from present to past so that Dawoud’s story is told in pieces. Some of the story is true. Some of it is versions of a truth he tells to survive or to pass on to the next stage of his escape. I think my favourite section though is when he is on a tour of Jerusalem and he is taken to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It packs a hefty punch of ideas and emotions. There’s also this:

Dawit wished he could be left alone in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to listen reverently to the sounds coming through the cracks and to wipe his hands on the weeping rectangle of marble— not because he wanted to be blessed, but to console the church for its alienation.

Where I found myself  thinking that this is Dawit himself – alienated and looking for consolation. Like a lot of people. In a time of hostility towards immigrants this is a timely book.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

Image - Amazon

Black Foam is published in the English language on 7th February by Amazon Crossing

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